Global Leadership Blog

Finding the Transparency Sweetspot

Have you ever had an employee say “please keep me in the dark” or “please be dishonest with me”?

Everyone says they want transparency, honesty, and openness.

When fragile situations demand confidentiality, you as a manager have decisions to make. You have to navigate toward the sweet spot between healthy transparency and professional discretion.

Being constantly open, honest, and transparent can cause conflict and loss of morale as people sort through a deluge of information. On the flip side, if we hide things or aren’t transparent, trust can break down.

If you find yourself in the midst of a crisis and everyone is clamoring to know more, use these six guidelines to hone in on the transparency sweet spot:

Lead Explicitly. Make it clear that your role as a leader is to protect your team and advocate for them. Candidly explain that there will be some pieces of information that are not eligible to be fully disclosed right away. Don’t say “you will know everything I know” if that’s not what’s going to occur.

Have a Policy. Ideally, your company has a formal policy or statement on ethics. If not, at a minimum you should immediately have a conversation about what ethical “do’s” and “don’ts” you expect within the context of your team. Make sure each team member acknowledges your plan of ethics and commits to operationalize it.

Be Proactive. Put a five-minute status update about upper management’s directives on the agenda in every team meeting. This status update should be as straightforward as possible. Even better, have an upper management level representative attend your team meeting and answer questions directly.

Hold Skip Level Meetings. Advocate for and set up skip level meetings with your manager so your staff will get access to senior leadership. These meetings will give your direct reports more visibility and status. Skip level meetings give everyone a sense of more transparency, even if the word “transparency” is never overtly said.

Make Allowances for Your Industry. Remember that ethics criteria will vary depending on the industry. A law firm, for example, may have a different take on transparency than an ad agency.

Take Cultural Standards Into Account. For example, countries vary widely in their attitudes toward gifts. In the United States, the exchange of presents could be seen as bribe or form of corruption but in some countries, business partners will expect to exchange gifts.

My training specialties are management development, cultural communication and gender cooperation and the topic of transparency arises at every session, either in group discussions or private sidebars (or both). It’s easy to get access to company details these days, from salaries to the balance sheet. It’s not so easy to get at the heart of that organization’s values.

The transparency “sweet spot” can be elusive. Too much transparency can distract. Not enough transparency can be a trust-blocker. Follow these six tips and you stand a good chance of ending up right where your people need you to be.

Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication.
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